June 29, 2005
From the closeout store

Near our house is a book closeout store. It used to be a regular Crown Books store, but at some point it transitioned into a closeout only books store. The prices are rock bottom and there's plenty of interesting stuff. The girls and I often browse and I encourage them to choose books there.

In our last trip this book caught my eye and I decided the $4.99 price was probably low enough to take a risk.

Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics - Julius Schwartz, Brian M. Thomsen

To readers of DC Comics, Julius Schwartz is a familiar name. He was with DC Comics from the beginning when it was still All-American Comics. As an editor, he is best know for helming both Batman and Superman for long runs in the 60s and 70s. He's less well known as the man behind the Silver Age of comics, reinventing core heroes like Green Lantern and the Flash into their modern incarnations.

Reading the book, I was suprised to learn of his huge involvement in the early science fiction scene and his role as the agent to many of the greats such as H.P. Lovecraft, Alfred Bester, and Ray Bradbury.

He played a critical role in creating the science fiction genre that I was unaware of completely. The book goes into great detail about how much money was made in those days, a half cent per word, for science fiction. This section of the obok is quite interesting, with insights into famed sci-fi writers from someone that was truly their friend.

Julius brings up a comic fact that I had never heard before. Most comics readers take it as fact that Bob Kane created Batman. the truth is that Bob Kane drew the art for Batman, but Bill Finger wrote the stories and developed most of the mythos that we associate with Batman from the Utility Belt to the Batmobile to the Joker. Props to Bill Finger for his work with Bob Kane to create the World's Greatest Detective.

Some of the things that Julius did in the comics, I hated. He was responsible for killing Alfred and having Clark Kent work as a TV reporter. I really hated these things as core elements of the comic mythos were changed. Both plot lines were eventually 'fixed', but all is forgiven for two main reasons.

One, He edited the Ambush Bug comic, the greatest comic book ever written. It was the pet project of my favorite comic artist/writer, Keith Giffen.

Second, he is responsible for the proliferation of gorillas in DC Comics. Julius found out that if there was a gorilla on the cover of a comic, it sold more than comics without a gorilla. Julius didn't need to know why, but if it sold more copies, he's do it. For long time DC Comics readers, this should be an aha moment as to why Gorilla Grodd shows up in so many books.

The book itself seems a bit rushed in places. The creation of the fundemetal DC concept of Earth 1 and Earth 2 is breezed through in a couple of pages. You also get a taste for Julius's feeling toward other comic book legends, but only a taste.

Julius Schwartz died in 2004 and DC rereleased several of his most famous comics in tribute. You would enjoy them if you picked them up.

For comic book and sci-fi fans, this a fun book to read. I'm now interested to pick up some books about Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to see what went on in the Marvel side of things.

Posted by michael at June 29, 2005 09:10 PM